Monday, May 7, 2012

Clinton’s visit, US double standards and shameless ruling elite

THE visit of the US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Bangladesh was typical of any such visit anywhere in the world by any minister of any American government. During her stay in Dhaka, the former first lady also provided a classic introduction to hegemonic diplomacy — praise for the host government’s ‘commitment’ to democracy, human rights, rule of law, etc; acknowledgement of the opposition camp’s concerns; assurance of the US government’s continued support and cooperation; and, of course, a reasonably long list of what the US has done and plans to do for global peace and prosperity. In the end, however, there was hardly any tangible benefit for Bangladesh; there was no commitment whatsoever either to grant duty-free access of Bangladesh’s readymade garments to the US market or to resume diversity visa lottery for Bangladesh.

It had all been on the cards, though; yet, the ruling elite — the government and the opposition alike — virtually grovelled before Clinton, to curry favour with the supposedly most powerful state in the world. It is such perverse preoccupation with the West — especially the United States — that has prompted the ruling elite to increasingly align Bangladesh with the US-led so-called global war on terror. When Clinton praises Bangladesh’s role in the international fight against terrorism, it only suggests that such alignment may have been complete, which is worrying. The terrorism that the US-led Western countries are fighting is mainly a resistance against the state-sponsored terror that they have unleashed on many countries across the world, to further their imperialist agenda. Bangladesh, which is the offspring of decades of anti-colonial and anti-imperial political struggle, is expected to side with the resistance against the US-led imperialist hegemony. If it means that we would be on ‘the wrong side of history’ in the eyes of the US and its murderous allies, so be it.

Even before Clinton landed in Dhaka, it had been clear that her whirlwind tour of Asia was part of a revitalised US interest in the Asia-Pacific region. She has recently said that ‘One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region’ and that ‘a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages’ — apparently as part of its China containment policy. On board the US plan is none other than India, which has consistently displayed a disdainful disregard for Bangladesh’s concerns and interests. Not surprisingly then, Clinton chose to praise the Bangladesh government’s ‘efforts’ to offer transit to neighbouring countries, read India, but maintained silence over killing of Bangladeshis by the Border Security Force of India or New Delhi’s plan to erect the Tipaimukh Dam on a trans-boundary river, persistent refusal to share equitably the water of common rivers, unwillingness to remove tariff and para-tariff barrier to exports from Bangladesh, etc.

Such duplicity of the US is neither unprecedented nor isolated. In fact, double-standards have come to be the cornerstones of the US diplomacy these days. Hence, when Clinton talked about democracy, human rights and rule of law, there is hardly any reason to feel encouraged and assured. After all, the US currently is the most potent enemy of democracy, human rights and rule of law in many countries and regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, West Asia and even Pakistan. Indeed, all sides should ‘construct a political dialogue’; there should be ‘thorough and independent investigations’ of enforced disappearances and murders; and all parties need ‘to do everything necessary to support democracy, to plan for another free, fair and credible election’ but not because the US government wants but because that is how it should be.

Of course, society in general and its conscious sections in particular need to sustain the pressure on the ruling elite, especially the government, to resolve these issues and thus dispel the growing political uncertainty. Equally importantly, however, they need to remain alert so that the ruling quarters, in their insatiable greed for partisan and material gains, become the US’s poodles and, in the process, make Bangladesh its doormat. It is not just a question of national pride but also independence and sovereignty of the state. Some people have seen through the US duplicity and staged protests against Clinton’s visit; it is time that more people joined in.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

BNP, Awami League owe people credible clarification

THE admission by a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on Wednesday that the intelligence agency had funded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, currently the main opposition party in Jatiya Sangsad, during the general elections in 1991 is indeed disquieting. According to reports by several Pakistani and Indian media outlets, as quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Saturday, the admission ‘came during a Pakistan Supreme Court hearing on the spy agency’s mandate’ in a case lodged by retired air marshal Asghar Khan with the apex court in 1996. Khan, currently the chief of the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal party, accused the former ISI chief and the then army chief of distributing public money for political purposes, both within and outside Pakistan, through the Mehran Bank. Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates-based Khaleej Times also reported that the ISI had paid the BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, Rs 50 crore before the 1991 general elections to ‘help her in the polls against [current Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh] Hasina’s Awami League generally perceived by Pakistan’s security establishment as pro-India.’

In the aftermath of the Khaleej Times report, the prime minister and her government wasted no time to accuse the leader of the opposition of selling the country while the BNP leadership dismissed the report as ‘absolutely false’. Now that the former ISI chief has himself made an admission, the partisan bickering over the issue in Bangladesh is highly likely to get much more boisterous and acrimonious. In the consequent political sound bites and partisan rhetoric, the greater issue of public trust in the political establishments could get lost. Notably, the BNP is not the only party alleged to have received election funding from the establishments — political, military or otherwise — of a neighbouring country. 

According to a report published by the London-based Economist, an internationally acclaimed news magazine, in its July 30-August 5, 2011 issue, ‘bags of Indian and cash’ allegedly helped the Awami League, which currently leads an alliance government in Bangladesh, win the last general elections held on December 28, 2008. Then, too, there was a huge uproar in public, with the opposition accusing the ruling party of selling out the country and the ruling party dismissing the report as baseless.

Overall, both the major political parties stand accused of betraying first and foremost the trust that the people of Bangladesh have reposed in them almost in equal measure. Suffice it to say, despite their abysmal records in governance, and representing public interest, the people have unfailingly rallied behind the two parties through thick and thin, which proves why they have alternately ruled the country since 1991 except for a two-year interregnum of an illegal and unconstitutional rule by a military-controlled interim government. It is thus imperative for the BNP, and also the Awami League, to come up with credible and genuine clarifications against the accusations levelled against them.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Transit and connectivity

Now someone in the government is talking sense about transit. One could not agree more with the finance minister that with the present condition of our infrastructure Bangladesh is not yet in a position to allow transit of goods overland. 

It is unfortunate that in Bangladesh the matter has turned out to be controversial. There are very little grounds to oppose the plan that rests on the core idea of connecting the region. And for Bangladesh, being where it is, the gift of geography has endowed it with a huge potential to derive strategic benefits as well be the connecting hub of not only between the countries of South Asia but also between the region and South East Asia. It is a pity that the matter has been politicised to such an extent that the ground realities and the economics of the issue are often lost sight of.

For Bangladesh it would be unwise not to exploit the potential benefits. And while talking about transit, the facility, as we understand, should be offered to all the regional countries, particularly the land-locked ones for their access to ports in Bangladesh.

We are dismayed by the way the issue has been dealt with by the successive governments. While we were disappointed to see the matter dismissed out of hand by the BNP led 4-Party alliance during its tenure, we have been quite unable to see the rationale in the undue rush to provide the facility to India, and that too at cost to our existing infrastructure, by the present government. We are also disconcerted at the inability of the government to work out the economics of the issue and fix the charges, because there is no way that Bangladesh can allow the use of its territory, nor can the services it will provide in allowing transit be, free of charge. In fact, anything else would be contrary to international practice. 

Thus we feel that in the true regional spirit the infrastructure should be got ready quickly and first, and if the Indian line of credit regarding this is restrictive, persuade Delhi to relax it or arrange for alternative financing.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Plotters and their motives need to be identified

Since 2009, February 25 marks a sad day in the calendar of all Bangladeshis as on that day the nation witnessed a gruesome carnage at the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters in Peelkhana as a result of a nationwide mutiny of the erstwhile BDR jawans who took up arms against their officers on deputation from the army. In the violence and holdup that lasted 36 hours, 75 people, including 57 officers of the Bangladesh Army, were killed. Following the tragedy, 3,036 soldiers have been sentenced to varying terms on charges of taking part in the mutiny, while the BDR has been reconstituted under the Border Guard Bangladesh Act 2010 and renamed accordingly. Meanwhile, 847 people are presently under trial under criminal charges, including murder. In virtually a few hours on this day three years ago, two of the most important security forces of the country against external aggression, the army and border guards, were thoroughly weakened, and in the case of the latter, virtually reduced to rubble. Understandably, it will take many years for the army to recover from both the physical and mental scars of the tragedy, while the border guards, in the mess left by the mutiny, the subsequent trial and guilt, had to be eventually disbanded in its original form, which had been around for more than a 100 years and was the oldest uniformed force of the country. Very few wars can inflict the level of damage on the uniformed forces of a country, which BDR Mutiny did.

What is more troublesome is that while 3,000-odd soldiers have been punished, for taking part in the mutiny, motivated by prolonged ‘grievances’ – according to the findings of both the investigation committees set up by the government and the Bangladesh Army – the alleged plotters are yet to be identified and the conspiracy behind it is yet to be cracked. The report of the investigation committees, which were not made public but found its way into various sections of the media, recommended the government conduct a further inquiry to identify the people behind the scenes who had capitalized on the grievances of the soldiers to stoke the violence, as well as to identify their motives. For reasons best known to themselves, the government is yet to initiate any such inquiry. Furthermore, the government did not pay heed to any of the long-standing ‘grievances’ of the border guard soldiers, sans increasing their ration, in the last three years. On the other hand, while investigations and trials were going on, as many as 69 BDR soldiers died while in custody, giving rise to serious allegations of extrajudicial killing and torture, which, despite the government setting up a committee, are yet to be investigated. All these are ominous signs for the nation at large and does not at any length allay the fear and scope for future trouble.

It is important for all countrymen to know who were responsible for inflicting such harm on the entire country and to what ends. After all, a country needs to know who its enemies and friends are. It is also important that both genuine grievances and perceived grievances amongst the uniformed forces of a country are addressed, so that they no longer remain susceptible to conspiracies in the future. Therefore, it is important the government immediately begin an inquiry to identify and bring to justice the real plotters, to avoid any such incidents in the future. Besides, it also needs to complete the criminal trials as well as the inquiries into the deaths of the soldiers under custody, as soon as possible, so that the families, on both sides, can get a certain sense of closure.  

Collected :

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mamata Banerjee's sensitivity expected

She should see the broader picture.


During her recent talks with prime minister Manmohan Singh of India in Delhi, chief minister of the country's Pashchimbangla State, Mamata Banerjee, is learnt to have expressed her concern about what she termed excess water flowing to Bangladesh due to leakages in the Farakka Barrage.

Though it is an internal problem of India, we cannot help discern her diversionary emphasis away from the Teesta water sharing issue, which is a matter of prime concern for us. For lack of agreement on Teesta water sharing, Bangladesh continues to suffer from the sharp decline in water flow due to diversion of water by India. 

She couldn't have been oblivious of the Indian press reports that due to her last minute stance on the Teesta water sharing formula, which Indian prime minister had given shape to, that it fell through. The incident caused avoidable embarrassment to both the governments of India and Bangladesh. 

We wonder by deflecting from an issue of fundamental importance to Bangladesh's ecology and economy, what gain she is supposed to be deriving from impeding resolution of an important water sharing issue? 

By throwing a spanner in the works of the efforts to clinch the Teesta water deal, she is actually denying Paschimbangla, the Indian state closest to Bangladesh, the benefits she could draw from a higher level of Indo-Bangladesh relationship. We urge her to look at the broader picture of a greater and enduring cooperation between the two countries. 

The sooner Pashchimbangla chief minister Mamata Banerjee is able to see reason, the better for Indo-Bangla relations and also for the ties between Pashchimbangla and Bangladesh.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Home minister needs to assert border killing concern

ON FEBRUARY 23, the home minister, Sahara Khatun is scheduled to leave Dhaka to take part in bilateral talks with her Indian counterpart, P Chidambaram, on issues relating to border management, security cooperation, etc, scheduled for February 24-25 in New Delhi. The last time she had a similar meeting, in July 29-30, 2011, in Dhaka, her counterpart emphatically told a press conference: ‘We have issued strict instructions to our Border Security Force that under no circumstances, they should fire on anyone trying to cross either from Bangladesh to India or from India to Bangladesh. The message has gone down to the jawans.’ Since then, from August, 2011 to January, 2012, according to rights-based organisation Odhikar, 13 Bangladeshis have either been gunned down or tortured to death by the BSF, while 20 Bangladeshis have been injured. Add to that the recent brutal torture of Habibur Rahman, a Bangladeshi young man from Chapainawabganj, by the BSF, caught on camera and shown on Indian television, which caused uproar in Bangladesh, in conscious sections of Indian society, as well as amongst the international human rights watchdogs. Further adding insult to injury came the words of BSF director general, UK Bansal, ‘Firing in the border can never be stopped totally… So long criminal activities would continue to take place along the India-Bangladesh border’ during an interview with BBC Bangla on February 7. Given that much water has flown under the bridge since the last time she met him, the home minister should indeed have a number of serious questions to ask her Indian counterpart, which she owes as an answer to the Bangladeshi people on her return.

The Indian border guards have so far killed 935 Bangladeshis since January 2000, and 220 since the Awami League-led government assumed office in January 2009. From the joint communiqué issued during prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi in 2010, to Manmohan Singh’s visit in September 2011, to an agreement on the use of non-lethal weapons signed between the two border guard chiefs of two countries in March 2011, it would be fair to say that the Bangladeshi government has tried to lay their concern about border killings at the highest level of the Indian government and received assurances at equal measure. However, the Indian authorities appear almost defiant in ignoring all the pledges made to Bangladesh and in recent months the situation has gotten much worse, with Indian authorities seeming to indicate they have undergone a clear change in stance.

While Bangladeshis have always felt aggrieved at the killing of unarmed Bangladeshis along the border, the events in recent months, following the assurances of the highest level of Indian government, have forced public opinion to such a low, that if it is not addressed immediately it may cause prolonged damage to future relations with India, at least in the perception of ordinary people. Bangladeshi people feel dismayed and betrayed at the state of affairs and that is the message the home minister must convey to her counterpart in her upcoming visit. The home ministry has so far promised that she will ‘strongly protest’ the killing and torture and we hope she manages to also convey the gravity and seriousness of the issue at hand, and what is at stake.   

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Delhi Owes An Explanation

It is finally out in the open. On Wednesday, the Border Security Force director general said it aloud: ‘Firing in border can never be stopped totally’ because ‘criminal activities continue to take place along the Indo-Bangladesh border and the BSF will have to prevent those offences.’ Of course, the ‘criminal activities’ he refers to largely involves illegal cattle trade carried out by unarmed villagers or Bangladeshis — men, women and children anywhere between the ages of four to 70 — illegally immigrating to India, judging by the identity of the 935 Bangladeshis killed by the Indian border guards since 2000. It appears to escape the BSF chief that there are various forms of law enforcement such as arrest, detention, trial in a court of law to contain such ‘criminal activities’, that both the BSF and the Border Guards Bangladesh can avail, if and when necessary. In fact, shooting at unarmed civilians, criminals or otherwise, by law enforcement officials, essentially translates to ‘extrajudicial killings.’ And then of course, over the last few months they have been doing a lot less shooting and a lot more stoning, beating and torture, which translate into heinous forms of human rights violation, something which has left even the conscious-sections of the Indian citizenry enraged. With one instance of the torture recently caught on video, it seems the BSF chief has made an official announcement to revert back to old ways of ‘target practice’ on cattle traders ahead of the more cumbersome and potentially embarrassing ‘torture to death’.

What is more dangerous is that the words of an Indian bureaucrat seems to have virtually negated the assurances made by the Indian home minister, no more than eight months back, ‘that BSF would no longer shoot at civilians under any circumstances.’ It also pours cold water on the words, penned down by the Indian premier and Bangladeshi prime minister, to ‘exercise restraint’, in the joint communiqué issued during the latter’s visit to New Delhi in 2010. Finally, it contradicts an agreement on the use of ‘non-lethal weapons’ along the border of the two countries, signed by none other than the BSF chief himself, with his Bangladeshi counterpart. The Indian political establishment indeed owes an explanation to their ‘friendly neighbours’ as to who exactly calls the shots in India.

Why we say it is out in the open is simply because border killings of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians have never rally stopped irrespective of whichever level of the Indian government the assurances came from. 

Bangladeshis were killed by the BSF on the same day the joint communiqué between Hasina and Manmohan was made public, on the day Sonia Gandhi arrived in Dhaka and on the day Manmohan arrived in Dhaka. Ever since the signing of the agreement on the use of non-lethal weapons, Bangladeshis have been killed by stoning, by beating and by running speedboats over them. What the BSF chief’s words do is make it clear that it is indeed a veritable policy decision of the Indian government to intimidate Bangladeshis along the border by rampantly shooting at them, and that there are clearly no plans to honour the words, agreements, or assurances provided by the highest level of Indian government.

In recent times, various sections of the international media and human rights groups have woken up to the horrors committed by the BSF on unarmed Bangladeshis and the Bangladesh-India border has been described as the ‘wall of death’, ‘Berlin Wall of Asia etc. To that, one may add, that the Indian government has decided to adopt the policies reminiscent of Zionist Israel towards their Arab neighbours — towards their apparently ‘friendly neighbours’ from whom they so urgently seek ‘transit’ facilities. It is time the Bangladesh government woke up from their stand of ‘not very worried’ about border killings, as the LGRD and cooperatives minister said only recently, and got very, very worried.     

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

5 killed: Police excesses galore

During the past three-year rule of the Awami League (AL) regime the number of the people killed — because they were supporters of the main opposition BNP or its political partners — is mind-boggling; and the figure of those arrested as well as were sued by police has possibly exceeded twenty thousand, many among whom were bystanders or simply pedestrians. In this period the police have shot dead a shocking number of completely unarmed people who joined the public meetings or rallies of the main opposition.  After all such killings of citizens without arms by police the incumbent AL Government in general and its home ministry in particular blatantly palm off as ‘justifiable’, ignoring the fact that unarmed men cannot be so serious a threat that police personnel would have to resort to shoot in ‘self-defence’.

Four BNP men were killed in Luxmipur and Chandpur towns and one Jamaat activist in Rajshahi when police fired on demonstrating BNP activists and supporters on January 29 and 30. More than 450 people were injured when the policemen attempted to foil prescheduled marches of opposition activists in different districts.

Condemning the police atrocities, BNP held the government responsible for the killings.

In this country trampling young men under police boots in Dhaka a la grotesque incidents under the fascist jackboot often traumatise people. Similar scenes of brutality were familiar in Saigon or Hanoi during the Vietnam War 38 years ago. The maltreated Yusuf Ali, hailing from Nilphamari, belongs to a family of have-nots with his father earning Taka 600 per month and his elder brother working as a street hawker. They family supports Jamaat. They live in a thatched hut. Ali has a menial job at a hospital. Policemen who tortured him were not punished, but the victim was — a sad litany of another brazen violation of human rights.

A parliamentary standing committee member said the panel sought the police chief’s explanation on such ‘unrestrained behaviour’ of lawmen during the hartal, but Awami League leader Hanif said “opposition might have influenced such behaviour of police”. A startling revelation indeed! The ruling Awami League government constituted a court in 2009 on the model of a Martial Law court. Ali was prosecuted in that court which is worse than a Kangaroo court. The victim has been sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment.

Exactly on the Bangladesh model, in Pakistan a similar court was formed by Asif Ali Zardari to harass and repress the opposition parties. However, good sense prevailed upon Zardari; and in the face of criticism he repealed it —- but Bangladesh has not.

Having seen the grossly erroneous attitude of the incumbents and crass performance of the ministry of home headed by Shahara Khatun, it is now obvious that the ruling AL Government’s policymakers are miles away from the time honoured dictum of pro bono publico; in every sphere and sector of governance from bashing the opposition to law and order to economic management they have made it evident that public good is not their goal whatsoever.

It is axiomatic that the parliamentary opposition in a Westminster form of government must function as per the Constitution.

The framers of our Constitution made it sure to outline the fundamental rights of citizens even before describing the government’s structure. Consistent with the section on fundamental rights, the Constitution guarantees the right to assemble, hold public meetings, and form unions. Freedom of speech and the press are ensured. Persons who have been arrested must be informed of the charges made against them, and they must be brought before a magistrate within twenty-four hours. These words under the incumbents sound hollow.

Deplorably enough, the incumbents are not only denying the main opposition BNP and its political partners to agitate and assemble; they are also allowing the police to open fire at opposition rallies and processions.

Presumably the first most brutal case in this country was that of teenager Limon in which the adolescent blameless college student sustained gun shot injury caused by RAB.  The country is devoid of the rule of law, so said the NHRC chief on August 12, 2010. So what can the people, who do not support the AL, expect from the AL Government? We do not have any answer.
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Saturday, February 4, 2012

BSF’s killings: The Hindu’s worthy remark, Dhaka’s subservience

The disgustingly blasé public statement of the incumbent LGRD minister-cum-Awami League (AL) general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam has demonstrated his brazenly unfeeling insensitivity to the killings of hundreds of innocent Bangladesh citizens over the years by the Indian BSF personnel on the border which has been described by The Economist, the prestigious British newspaper, as one of the world’s bloodiest on Earth.

Ashraful’s utterance was unquestionably the most weird ever uttered anywhere in the world. People wonder aghast if it is time to call his allegiance into question. Other ministers — with special reference to the AL Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and Home Minister Shahara Khatun — in the Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in general lackadaisically shrug off these unprovoked murders.

An inhabitant of Chapainawabganj, Habibur Rahman was stripped and tortured by BSF men in uniform on December 9 last year as he refused to pay them a bribe. The video clip, which was aired on some Indian TV channels, including NDTV, earned strong criticism of the BSF personnel from people in both countries.

Ashraful Islam said on 21 January that the State was not worried about the killing and torture of Bangladeshi nationals by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) is simply shocking, to say the least. And hence it has sparked a flurry of criticism across the country and beyond. Islam said the “the State cannot put aside everything and only think about what is going on along the border” because such killing and torture “are nothing new, these were there in the past, these are happening now, and these will be in the future.”

By the way, on the same day, the people saw an astonishing synchronisation of wording of phrases of the Indian finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, during a programme at the Petrapol land port in West Bengal, where his Bangladesh counterpart, AMA Muhith, was present. Mukherjee said there was no point in blowing the torture of a Bangladeshi national by BSF members out of proportion. The noticeable resemblance between the views of Syed Ashraf and Pranab Mukherjee could provide credibility to the oft-uttered allegations about the AL-led government that it is pursuing a weak-kneed, spineless, subservient India policy.

Mohammed Nur Islam’s 15-year-old daughter Felani’s death will remain a lasting scar on the people’s mind. The Economist reported on January 7, 2011 how India’s BSF —- also called “Border Smuggling Force”—- shot her dead; and Felani’s body hung from the barbed-wired fence for five hours. The BNP leaders gathered on 9 Feb 2011 at Kurigram town in protest against the killing of Felani and demanding trial in the international tribunal. But police obstructed the BNP leaders-activists when they tried to go to Felani’s home village.

India’s force has killed above 1,000 Bangladeshis over the past 10 years, meaning a shooting every four days. “The death toll between two democracies dwarfs the number killed attempting to cross the inner German border during the cold war,” wrote the Economist.

True, during our Liberation War India was our friend in need which we always acknowledge, but after independence she could not keep it up in so far as bilateral relations with Bangladesh are concerned. The developments that unfolded since the early seventies regarding the big neighbour’s attitude were most unpleasant, often antagonistic and intimidating. The issues are many: depriving co-riparian Bangladesh of her legitimate share of the Ganges water; greater plan to divert waters of the 54 common rives; the highly dangerous Tipaimukh dam; and refusal to sign the Teesta water sharing. Since time immemorial the then East Bengal, now Bangladesh, has been exercising its sovereign authority over the legitimate area of the Bay of Bengal, but  conflict between Bangladesh and India over maritime boundaries lingers.

Dhaka’s disgraceful policy of keeping subserviently mum is most reprehensible when a significant section of Indian society has criticised and condemned Delhi government for failing to stop the border killings by trigger happy BSF. India’s National Human Rights Commission served notice on Indian Home Ministry, seeking a report on the BSF jawans who had recently assaulted a Bangladeshi youth near the Indo-Bangla border. Also on the same day, a leading Indian newspaper, The Hindu, asked New Delhi to “make an unreserved apology to Dhaka for the border troops’ brutal torture on the youth”. 

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Deaths in police firing

We condemn the deaths of five people killed in police firing on demonstrating BNP activists in Lakshmipur, Chandpur and Rajshahi the day before yesterday and yesterday respectively. 

We understand that under the present circumstances, when political tempers are frayed, it is the police that are under severe pressure. But that is where the training of the law enforcing agencies comes into play.

We wonder whether all the other crowd control measures were taken before opening fire.

Firing is a matter of last resort and not first and that too its purpose is to cause restrain and not death. It is not precipitate action on the part of the police but exercising utmost restraint in these situations that can assuage nerves and help control volatile situations. 

We note that two different enquiry committees have been constituted and we hope that these would not only bring out the circumstances of the killings but also suggest corrective measures for the police so that such tragedies could be avoided in future. But the police have filed cases in which they have accused BNP activists of creating disturbances.

However, the other concern of equal degree is the way politics is playing out now and how it will shape in the near future. Admittedly, we have had a state of confrontational politics ever since the revival of democracy in 1990. But it is the abject violent turn that politics is taking that causes us serious anxiety. Thankfully, though, the programmes of AL and BNP yesterday passed off peacefully.

In this regard one would like to know what prompted the government to thwart the BNP's programme on 29 January. It was most ill-advised for the AL to announce a counter programme. Its decision has been provocative and disruptive. And while the AL is heaping blames on the BNP for destructive politics we feel that it is AL politics which is proving unhelpful. 

The country is caught in the one-upmanship game, and as the ruling party it is for the AL to lead the way by abjuring the path of confrontation and opening up an avenue for dialogue. That is the only way that the country can be spared the distress it is very likely to face otherwise.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The search committee does not look like a solution

Presidential dialogue with political parties across the divide over the ways of holding free and fair general elections raised enormous hope among the people who want peaceful transfer of power. The hope, however, was dashed first as the president did not heed the idea of restoration of a non-party, caretaker government for conducting the polls — an idea that most of the political parties, again on both sides of the political divide, put forward. The president eventually came up with the government idea of forming a ‘search committee’ to find out non-partisan people to constitute the next Election Commission to preside over the polls without any bias for or against any contender for state power. This is, indeed, an ideal solution for an ideal democratic political atmosphere, particularly for those, like New Age, who do not believe in the running of the affairs of the state by any unelected body even for a while. But, unfortunately, the political parties and authorities managing the state since independence have not contributed, intentionally or unintentionally, towards the creation of that ideal, democratic political environment. Subsequently, the political parties of the ruling class, let alone those who find the ruling class inherently undemocratic, do not trust each other’s neutrality in conducting the polls. But the president, who is expected to function as a symbol of unity of the state, went ahead with the incumbents, ignoring their political rivals.

After the four-member ‘search committee’ was officially announced, the hope of the peace-loving people, however, was dashed again because of the composition of the search body. The New Age report on Saturday, ‘Who’s who in the search committee,’ reveals that most members of the body either have a partisan background identified with the ruling Awami League or the identity of being a ‘victim’ of being the incumbents’ political rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party. None of the identities promise party-neutrality in choosing the members of the next Election Commission, one of the most vital bodies in conducting general elections with non-partisan attitude.

The head of the committee, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, had reportedly served the Awami League government during its 1996–2001 tenure as a deputy attorney general. He was appointed a High Court judge in February 2001 when the Awami League was in power. He was elevated to the Appellate Division in February 2011. Justice Md Nuruzzaman, a member of the search committee, had been elected general secretary and president of the Dhaka Bar Association from the Awami League-supported panel. He was appointed a deputy attorney general immediately after the Awami League had assumed office on January 6, 2009. He was appointed a High Court judge in June 2009.

Another member, AT Ahmedul Huq Choudhury, was appointed chairman of the Public Service Commission by the incumbents in November 2011. A former inspector general of police, Ahmedul was forced into retirement by the BNP government in 2001 on charge of his participation in Janatar Mancha, a platform of professionals that the BNP claims to have helped unceremoniously in overthrowing its government in 1996. Ahmed Ataul Hakeem, another member of the committee, was appointed the comptroller and auditor general in February 2008 by a military-driven government.

Those who have the idea of the level of mistrust between the two rival political camps led by the Awami League and the BNP could have no reason to believe that the latter would accept the commission chosen by the search committee in question. So, the problems regarding peaceful transformation of power remain. The president, if really willing, needs to make fresh attempts to save the country from the emerging political conflicts that the country would confront in the near future.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Now comes India’s reluctance to exchange enclaves

AFTER the blow to the potential of improving the thorny relations between Bangladesh and India by the latter over the signing of an agreement on Teesta water sharing in September last year, now comes another over the exchange of enclaves. Following a series of negotiations over the years, Dhaka and Delhi had agreed to sign the Teesta agreement during Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka on September 6, 2011. 

But after his arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh came to know that Delhi could not sign the agreement because of West Bengal’s objection to the idea. The government of Sheikh Hasina was embarrassed before the people, while those critical of India’s unfriendly attitude towards Bangladesh found their views further confirmed. 

However, the two neighbours signed some other bilateral agreements, one being a protocol on the exchange of enclaves to end the suffering of the peoples concerned. Notably, more than 50,000 people in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 51 enclaves of Bangladesh inside India have been living in immense miseries and uncertainties without any ‘official identity’ since 1947. The protocol was signed in September 2011 after the first-ever headcount of the enclave people jointly by the governments of Bangladesh and India in July that year. Subsequently, the suffering people living in the enclaves have eagerly been waiting for the exchange of the landlocked areas in adverse possessions of the two countries.

But, again, as reported by New Age on Friday quoting Indian media, the Indian government has adopted a ‘go slow’ policy about implementing the ‘ratification of the exchange of enclaves’ on the ground that there has not yet been a ‘national consensus’, particularly with the government’s coalition partner Trinamul Congress  and the rightwing opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The two parties have reportedly been opposing the idea and, therefore, as reports say, the government of India is not enthusiastic about implementation of the accord that it had signed with the ‘friendly’ government of Bangladesh last year, let alone ending the suffering of the poor people living in the enclaves.

No one can blame a foreign government if it refuses to implement an agreement signed with a neighbour in the face of its opposition parties at home. Rather, it is democratically important for any elected government to forge national consensus on issues of national interest. The incumbents in Bangladesh need to learn from their Indian counterparts and consult with the opposition political camps before entering into any important agreement with the foreign countries in general and India in particular.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

BSF atrocities continue

It is indeed a matter of serious concern that India-Bangladesh borders remain as dangerous as ever, courtesy of the persistent violence being perpetrated by the Indian border guards, Border Security Forces, despite a number of top level initiatives from both countries and assurances from the highest level of government in India. If reports in the last few days are anything to go by, the situation along the border appears to have worsened. On Saturday, the BSF shot dead a Bangladeshi and injured three others along the Benapole border. On Friday, Indian smugglers abducted a Bangladesh Border Guards havilder and a flag meeting between BGB and BSF failed to secure his return. He was however returned early Saturday after intervention of the highest level of officials. On Thursday, the Bangladesh government formally protested the inhuman torture of Bangladeshi national Habibur Rahman who was brutally tortured by Indian border guards at Mairashi camp in Murshidabad for failing to pay Tk 2,000 in bribe. Worryingly, according to a report published in New Age on Saturday, an Indian human rights group alleged that the Indian government was putting pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities to make Habibur Rahman change his statement. Bear in mind, last year, in March, the BGB and BSF chief signed an agreement on the use of non-lethal weapons along the Indo-Bangladesh border, while the Indian prime minister, through the joint communiqué published after the visit of the Bangladeshi prime minister to Delhi in February 2010, had provided assurances on stopping extra-judicial killings of unarmed Bangladeshis along the border. In May last year, the Indian home minister further reiterated India’s assurance on the issue. Given the prevailing situation, time has come to seriously question the commitment of the Indian government and its authorities to address the issue of the killing and torture of Bangladeshis along the border, something which is not just a cause of serious grievance and injury, but also an ‘insult’ to the notion of friendly relations, for the people of Bangladesh.

While the government of Bangladesh and India over the last two years worked towards forging stronger ties, it is indeed noteworthy that during every single major diplomatic and political event between the two countries – be it Hasina’s visit to Delhi, Sonia Gandhi’s and Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka – the BSF resorted to killing Bangladeshi nationals along the borders. One would not be mistaken in interpreting a ‘message’ in the timings of the killings. Moreover, the use of non-lethal weapons along the borders seems to have turned into a curse for Bangladeshis, as BSF has now resorted to medieval forms of killing such as stoning, beating, hacking, torture and running speed boats over victims. Now, if it is indeed true that the Indian government is trying to make the Bangladeshi authorities to make the victim change his statement, then the ‘message’ from India becomes all the more clearer.     

At a juncture when the many parts of the world, including the Indian media and human rights groups, are waking up to the atrocities of BSF on Bangladeshis, the Bangladeshi government would well-advised to revisit their relations with the big neighbour, to revisit the pledges to India they are too eager to deliver on so far, to refrain from trying to protect India’s interest ahead of Bangladesh’s, for example, by trying to change the victim’s statement, and make India diplomatically accountable for failing to respect the rights of Bangladeshi citizens. 

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Brutality at the borders

Need a change in BSF attitude. 


The Tv footage of a Bangladeshi being tortured by BSF personnel was, to say the least, appalling and contemptible. It shows a depraved mentality. The Indian TV channels deserve compliments for exposing the brutal side of the BSF behaviour at the borders. The pictures were a shocking and outrageous narrative of how one cattle smuggler was tied hand and feet after being deprived of his clothes and mercilessly beaten up by the BSF jawans, apparently for not paying up the BSF for plying his trade, smuggling cows. 

We have in the past repeatedly highlighted the issue of BSF highhandedness and their rather trigger free attitude on the borders, and called for reining in the Indian border guards. If anything, the TV footage has vindicated our position.

Killings of Bangladeshi nationals at the borders by BSF have been taking place with impunity. Nothing has been done to bring down these killings despite assurances from the highest quarters in India. Regrettably, according to human rights bodies, in the last three years more than 200 Bangladeshi nationals have fallen victims to BSF firing, among them many women and children, and many tortured to death by the BSF. 

It is a matter of regret that these should continue to occur given the state of bilateral relationship between the two countries. Descriptions of the Indo-Bangladesh border as the “world's deadliest frontier” or “one of the world's most dangerous border” are some of the testimonials to the insensitive way that the border is being managed. 

Although such incidents have been termed as human rights violation by the Human Rights Watch in 2010, the perpetrators have apparently gone scot-free so far. We are glad that the Indian authorities have acted quickly by suspending the jawans. We would hope that these errant BSF men would be made examples of.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

‘Fun-tastic’ education and campus killings

Corporal punishment is often defined broadly as bodily punishment of any kind. Bangladesh is celebrating the first anniversary of the abolition of corporal punishment in schools on January 13. The credo of Sir Frank Peters, the pioneer in this noble campaign, is: Learning should be FUN-tastic – help them know; help them grow.” We sincerely admire his endeavour.

As a knowledgeable person Sir Frank should be aware what The Bible Says: “He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14). This was the inbred belief among parents that beating children was a corrective method. But modern professional organizations of physicians and psychologists have suggested that spanking is damaging and leads to family violence and child abuse. They have suggested that spanking teaches physically aggressive behaviour which the child will imitate. Well, though the conclusion is not definitive, but it is incontestable that severe forms of physical abuse does more harm than good. At least this can be asserted with certainty that corporal punishment does induce fear among school goers.

One of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy, Aristotle – who believed that liberty as well as equality are chiefly to be found in democracy and they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost – asserted over twenty-three hundred years ago that Man is by nature a political animal. So there is no argument over the necessity and importance of politics; but nowhere else in the world politicking and politicisation have assumed such an intolerably demonic perilous shape in the political scenario as in Bangladesh where the people – even professionals like lawyers, physicians, journalists, freedom fighters et al – are sharply divided into two distinct political camps. It is anybody’s guess what might happen unless the ongoing imbroglio over the caretaker government issue and the next general election are not amicably resolved.

No other people know better than the Bangladeshis how politics can vitiate academic environment. Nevertheless, what are posing potential threat to academic atmosphere are the violent fights on the DU and all the other ‘varsities as well as colleges since 1974 when several students were shot dead near the TSC. Over the past three years the pro-Awami League Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) factions have been engaged in internecine mortal clashes. A fourth-year student of Jahangirnagar University succumbed to his injuries on January 10 after he was brutally beaten up allegedly by activists of a rival faction of BCL. Statistics of the victims of campus murders may not be readily available, but the figure should be terrifying.

Let us turn to our foremost centre of higher education. The University of Dhaka (DU), which celebrated its 90th birth anniversary last year, now boasts 10 faculties, 48 departments, 9 institutes and 26 research centres, and 17 dormitories. Two-thirds of the faculty members have degrees from European, North American, Australian and other foreign universities; and some of them achieved international renown for their scholarship and have taught at well-known ‘varsities and institutions abroad.

This ‘Oxford of the East’ had a very stormy start when many Calcuttan leaders were unhappy with the government’s intention to set up a university in Dhaka. A delegation headed by Dr Rash Bihari Ghosh, met the viceroy and contended that “Muslims of Eastern Bengal were in large majority cultivators and they would benefit in no way by the foundation of a university”. Lord Hardinge told Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, vice-chancellor of the Calcutta University, that he (Hardinge) was determined to establish a university in Dhaka in spite of their vehement opposition. However, modelled on modern British universities such as Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool, the DU itself became a model for Indian universities at Allahabad, Aligarh, Annamalai, Benaras, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

 There is no gainsaying that Sir Frank has inspired many teachers and parents here to seriously look into the issue of corporal punishment. Can he begin his second phase of campaign against senseless murders on the campuses taking place with horrifying frequency? For example, he may organise countrywide human chain to press home the issue. But a word of caution! Before doing so he must get assurance from the Home Minster that that his harmless programme shall not be attacked by the police.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ghulam Azam taken into custody

A major step forward in the trial process.


The arrest of former ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Ghulam Azam on Wednesday adds a vital phase to the trial process begun against the war criminals and those who committed crimes against humanity in 1971.

This is an important turning point in the trial process. Just as men like Tikka Khan were perpetrators of war crimes, Ghulam Azam symbolised betrayal and collaboration with the occupation forces of Pakistan and of crimes committed by Al-Badr, al-Shams, etc. 

As the ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, he was instrumental in aiding the Pakistani forces to form the al-Badr and al-Shams killer squads. 

These storm troopers were created to annihilate freedom fighters, political leaders and workers, commit arson, and carry out loot, plunder and rape. He was allegedly behind the creation of Razakars as the ancillary force of a murderous Pakistani regime.

What we particularly recall with horror is the heinous snuffing out of Bengali intellectuals just hours before the dawn of independence with the ulterior motive of crippling the new nation.

Without any prejudice to the trial process, now that this man has been taken into custody, the law should take its own course to bring him to justice. Though he is responsible for a shameful betrayal of his countrymen and committed crimes of historic proportions against humanity, we would like to see a fair and just trial against all the accused persons in the International Crimes Tribunal. 

That the trial could not take place during the last forty years is a national shame. Successive governments either deliberately adopted a laid back attitude or were reluctant to initiate any process of trial. We recall here with anger that President Ziaur Rahman abolished the Collaborators' Act and allowed the return of Golam Azam to Bangladesh, thus facilitating a restoration of his citizenship.

Ghulam Azam was among those who did not show even a hint of remorse for their vicious betrayal of the people even in an independent Bangladesh and went about doing their politics defending their past role. They deserve nothing but our scorn. 

Thus, it is with a sense of accomplishment that we view the trial of the war criminals, however belatedly our process of repaying our debts to the martyrs can be said to have begun.

Collected :


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A good initiative

Personal visits are good, but the system needs to be fixed.

The communications minister deserves compliments for giving his personal attention to many things in his ministry that are virtually in a state of decay. The other day he was at the BRTA office to see for himself the condition there. And we are not surprised to learn of his reaction at finding most of the things there in disorder.

Of the many things that were not working, or were there that should not have been, were 'dalals' using both money and links in the BRTA office, to get vehicle documents renewed, newly issued etc. And many of the officers were absent from their work places - quite a normal phenomenon in our country we must add. There were many things that the local heads of the office should have done without having to be directed by the minister, for example, increasing the number of booths for the public. It only shows that those in charge are least interested in enhancing the quality of service that they are obligated to provide to the public.

In fact several departments in the ministry of communications, particularly the BRTA, are reported to be hot bed of corruption. Much of the ailments that afflict the transport sector, we are constrained to suggest, stem from this office. There is a strong nexus between the crooks and certain category of officials at the BRTA that collude to issue fake documents including vehicle registration and licenses. 

But we feel that while such visits are necessary these may prove to be very temporary and short-lived palliatives unless something more permanent was done. What we have in mind is the correction of the systemic flaws. And the system should set up in a manner that it should function normally and have mechanism for internal oversight. There too must be strong action against those that are guilty of dereliction of duty.

Collected :

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Journalist-bashing MP Must Be Called To Account

The assault of a woman journalist by Kamal Ahmed Majumder, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League, on the premises of Monipur High School and College at Mirpur in the capital Dhaka on Tuesday is not only unbecoming of a people's representative but also borders on criminality on more counts than one.

According to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, the journalist, of the private television channel RTV, was pushed and hurled abuse at when she sought Majumder's comment on the allegation that the school was charging extra for admission. She also alleged that the lawmaker's associates 'encircled' her and her colleagues after they had come out of the school and sexually harassed her.

Moreover, the lawmaker, according to witnesses, ordered his associates to 'shoot down' the reporters, as he came out after a meeting with guardians. Suffice it to say, Majumder seems to have allowed arrogance to get better of him, and not only cut a sorry figure of himself but also bring the institution that he represents, i.e. parliament, into disrepute.

It is pertinent to recall here that guardians have long been protesting against the school realising Tk 20,000 in development fee with Tk 5,000 in admission fee fixed by the government.

According to media reports, similar allegations were also raised in 2011. By refusing to talk to the journalist and, worse still, assaulting her, unleashing his musclemen on her and making threats, the AL lawmaker has not only obstructed her journalistic pursuit for the truth, and thus perpetrated an attack on press freedom, but also seemingly betrayed his indulgence in, if not complicity with, the school's practice of realising additional fees from the students, which runs counter with the government's policy on school admissions.

Moreover, if the allegation of the journalist in question of sexual harassment by the lawmaker's associate is true, he cannot simply shirk his responsibility. Besides, as a people's representative, he is expected to uphold the law and uphold public interest needless to say, he has defaulted on both these obligations.

It is encouraging that the education ministry's response to the incident has been prompt. The ministry on Tuesday commissioned a committee to investigate the incident and submit its report within two working days. The inquiry committee appears to have begun its work in earnest, visiting the spot on the very day it was instituted and talking to the people concerned.

The education minister has, meanwhile, expressed his regret about the incident. Overall, the response of the government has thus far been beyond question. However, it needs to understand that the incident needs to be inquired thoroughly, transparently, competently and acceptably. If the lawmaker is found to have been involved in the incident as alleged, he must be called to account and punished.

A decisive and demonstrative action against the lawmaker would, on the one hand, go a long way to prove the government's commitment to the rule of law and, on the other, be deterrent to similar incidents in the future.

Collected :

Thursday, January 5, 2012

3 Years of Government : Connectivity, transit dominated diplomacy

Govt focused on improving ties with India. 

Regional connectivity, transit to India, fight against terrorism and climate change debate dominated Bangladesh's diplomacy in the past three years of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.

Even though Hasina tried to focus on a greater role for Bangladesh in the international arena, especially in the global climate change negotiations, Dhaka's diplomacy centred mainly around its closest neighbour India, according to foreign policy analysts.

Hasina braved opposition criticisms in her courageous move to warm up Dhaka's otherwise cold relations with New Delhi. She cracked down on the Indian insurgents using Bangladesh territory for operations in the northeast, arrested their top leaders and handed them over to New Delhi. Her foreign policy advisers also went out of the way to mobilise public opinion in favour of providing India the road transit facilities New Delhi has been asking for since Bangladesh's independence in 1971.

Bangladesh has yet to give India full-fledged road transit facilities, but it has already been allowed to tranship goods from West Bengal to Tripura by using both river and land routes. Providing transhipment facilities to India without charging any extra fees has sparked criticisms even from those who favour boosting road and railway connectivity with India.

Hasina went ahead with improving ties with New Delhi amid criticisms that Dhaka's friendly overtures have not always been reciprocated by it.

India's decision to allow duty-free access for Bangladeshi garments, round-the-clock access to Tin Bigha corridor and the signing of $1 billion loan deal were overshadowed by New Delhi's failure to sign a promised deal with Dhaka on the sharing of the Teesta water during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's much-hyped visit to Bangladesh in September last year.

The Indian move to build a dam at Tipaimukh on the Barak river not far from Bangladesh's Sylhet district has triggered more protests in Bangladesh testing the diplomatic nerves of Hasina and her advisers.

Critics say the dam will greatly harm Bangladesh's rivers and ecology, which India denied.
However, not all were lost with India.

Dhaka and New Delhi have signed a landmark land boundary agreement to exchange the enclaves, adversely possessed lands and for demarcation of 6.5 kilometre undemarcated border, problems the two countries have inherited since the British rulers left the sub-continent in 1947. The two countries also signed thousands of pages of documents on strip maps between them.

While Bangladesh forged greater relations with India, its ties with Pakistan, another regional power, has hit the lowest point. There have hardly been any exchange of high-level talks and visits between the two countries in the past three years since Hasina's Awami League-led Grand Alliance came to power in 2009.

In a sign of growing tension, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni used her first meeting with the newly-appointed Pakistani High Commissioner Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi to ask Islamabad to offer a formal apology to Dhaka for the genocide the Pakistani military committed during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. The meeting took place on November 20 last year at the foreign ministry.

The United States has been another major focus of Bangladesh's diplomacy in the past three years.

Even though the removal of Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus from his Grameen Bank upset Washington, Hasina's strong policy of zero-tolerance for terrorism earned her appreciation from the western powers.

Hasina still needs to work hard to heal the bruises Dhaka's relations with Washington have suffered over the Yunus issue. Diplomatic circles here say US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is delaying her trip to Dhaka because of Dhaka's maltreatment of Yunus, a recipient of America's highest civilian honour.

The foreign ministry has so far failed in its efforts to arrange a bilateral meeting between Hasina and US President Barack Obama. In her recent meeting with Dipu Moni, the US secretary of state urged Bangladesh to ensure that the media and NGOs are allowed to work freely.

On multilateral plane, Bangladesh was elected to different important bodies in the UN system, including the Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Dhaka has also been at the centre of the global negotiations on climate change and its impact on the disaster-prone countries. Vulnerable to global warming, Bangladesh has been active in pushing the developed nations to create the climate fund and disburse the money so that countries like it can cope with the change.

Dhaka's role in UN peacekeeping continued to be appreciated.

Regionally, Bangladesh's dispute with Myanmar on the Rohingya refugee issue has remained unresolved even though Dhaka's diplomats are hoping for an early solution following Hasina's recent visit to that country.

Dhaka has also moved for international arbitration on its maritime boundary disputes with India and Myanmar.

The foreign ministry deserves credit for the repatriation of thousands of Bangladeshis from Libya at the start of the anti-Gaddafi protests. But Dhaka, according to diplomatic observers, has made little progress in expanding the manpower market in the Middle East, the traditional destination of its manpower, and Malaysia.

Dipu Moni made over 100 often costly foreign visits in the past three years aiming to strengthen bilateral ties and promote multilateral diplomacy amid doubts over the benefits Bangladesh gained. 

Collected :

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No good news in politics

Caretaker, EC issues give birth to confrontatio. 


Politics has turned more volatile and confrontational over the last three years. People fear that possible political unrest ahead of the next parliamentary polls might erupt because of the sudden cancellation of the caretaker government (CG) system.

The cancellation of the CG has already created a political stalemate as the BNP-led opposition parties have unequivocally announced they will not participate in the next parliamentary election if the CG system is not restored. 

The opposition parties, as they have already declared, will make efforts to strengthen the anti-government street agitation in the coming days to have the demand realised. 

The government and ruling AL policymakers in response keep rejecting the opposition camp's demands, believing that the cancellation of the CG has outplayed their rivals as the party itself will remain in office during the next parliamentary polls. 

And in defence of its political stance, the ruling AL may strengthen its efforts to counter the opposition on the streets. The face-off could lead to political violence in the coming days. 

The way the ruling AL-led government unilaterally abolished the CG system in June 2011 was nothing but the outcome of the pervasive culture of confrontation in politics. 

It rejected outright the demands raised by the opposition as well as a number of non-partisan eminent citizens for retaining the CG system in the interest of holding free and fair parliamentary elections. 

The Supreme Court in May declared unconstitutional and void the provision relating to the CG system, but it also stated that two more parliamentary polls could be held under the system. 

Government policymakers vehemently defended and relied on the verdict to reject the demand for retaining the CG system, although there was a controversy over the clarity of the apex court's verdict.

The government action in respect of the cancellation of the CG and non-action on some other issues clearly makes a mockery of the ruling AL's own electoral pledges to bring about changes in the culture of confrontation in politics, which has made parliament ineffective, hampered rule of law, and marred good governance.

In the wake of political violence on the streets in 2006 and 2007 centering around the ninth parliamentary polls, the AL in its electoral manifesto pledged that tolerance and decency would come into political culture and efforts would be taken to formulate a code of conduct acceptable to all.

The AL also pledged reforms for ensuring democratic practices within political parties, and promised to take all measures necessary to make parliament more effective.

But all pledges remain only on paper. The government has yet to make any move to implement the electoral pledges in order to bring about a qualitative change in political culture. 

And as a result political culture has remained bereft of any change. Even the animosities between the two arch rival camps -- AL and BNP -- are on the rise on some fronts, contributing largely to a diminishing of hope for a political consensus among them about the mode of holding the next parliamentary polls after expiry of the incumbent government's tenure. 

Given the developing situation, New Year 2012 will mark the fourth year of the AL-led government in office. The government might not be able to offer anything pleasant in people's political lives since the legacy of yesteryears' political events is set to dominate the next political course. 

The New Year may witness much heat in the political arena centering on the formation of the next Election Commission (EC) after the expiry of the incumbent EC in early February this year.

The formation of the new EC now appears to be much crucial after the cancellation of the CG that earlier took office after the expiry of a partisan government's tenure and provided all support to the EC to hold parliamentary polls since1996. 

So, the government's any unilateral move to appoint people of its own choice as chief election commissioner and election commissioners may add fuel to the opposition parties' street agitation.

In light of the bitter memories of political deadlocks the country has suffered in the pastover EC-related controversies, people aware of political developments have already voiced concern about a further deterioration of the political situation.

The rival ruling and opposition camps may not be equally blamed for the unchanged political culture and for growing anxiety and fear in the public mind. But neither of them has demonstrated the political will necessary to initiate responsible and constructive politics in the last three years.

Instead, many senior leaders and MPs of both parties were seen uninterruptedly engaging in a war of words, even to the point of making derogatory remarks and exchanging tirades in and outside parliament, thus contributing largely to a polluting of the political atmosphere. 

Thanks to the ruling party's indifference to its own electoral promise of making parliament functional, the main opposition BNP seems to have opted for holding parliament hostage to its demands in order to make political gains. 

They have been frequently boycotting the House, making it unable to function effectively. In so doing, the BNP has also ignored its electoral pledges made before the last polls to take tough measures to put a stop to the House boycott culture. 

In brief, one can say that the way things are moving across the political landscape shows a similarity with the events that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in January 2007.

Still, solutions to all the problems lie in the ruling and opposition camps' political will which is the driving force for change. And it is their political will that can offer people good news in the New Year, removing all anxiety from their political lives.

Collected :

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dialogue with the President: What dialogue?

A common apprehension everywhere these days is that violence is round the corner in our politics. The ruling party and the opposition are both openly talking about the forebodings in the air but blaming each other for the violence they are suspecting will happen soon. In fact, they are saying the violence will start in February.
The President’s decision to hold talks with the political parties to choose the next Election Commission (EC) has hinted indirectly that a serious clash between the mainstream parties is very much possible because the step he has undertaken is very unusual to say the least. The opposition has underscored the unusual nature of the President’s decision stating clearly that the Constitution does not give him such a power. Under the Constitution, the Prime Minister recommends the names to the President to choose an EC who has little 
 power but to accept.

The President can of course request the Prime Minister to reconsider the recommendation but he must sign on the dotted lines once the Prime Minister makes up her/his mind. Normally, if here is any difference of opinion on any of the Prime Minister’s recommendations, the President has no power under the constitution to say or do anything any public. The constitution by design and purpose has made the office of the President nothing but titular. 
The constitutional restriction notwithstanding, there is this little problem that the President himself has created on the issue of his acceptance to the opposition political parties. He had given an interview to a private TV channel after being elected President where he was asked what he would do if he received a recommendation from the Prime Minister with which he did not agree. He answered almost by reflex action that his “Netri” could do no wrong! The exercise upon which the President has embarked could only succeed if he had the option to be neutral. Sadly, we all know our political realities. He just does not have that sort of power, neither by the constitution nor by his position, having been put in office of the President by the ruling party that he had served loyally all his life.
Those who advised the President to call the dialogue should have considered these issues. Even in choice of the issue for the dialogue, these Advisers did not act wisely or in the interest of the nation. The choice of the next EC is not the issue that has the potential to push the country towards the dangerous conflict that many people are apprehending. The apprehension is coming from the decision of the ruling party to conduct the next national elections under an interim administration that it will conduct, in all probability with Sheikh Hasina as the interim Prime Minister.
In addition, the ruling party will also have a civil bureaucracy that it has politicized totally to assist the interim government. From these loyal bureaucrats, the ruling party is in the process of choosing those bureaucrats whom it considers as its activists for the key posts in district and police administration that would be crucial for the elections. If this is not enough, the government has recently sent its party activists to the posts of administrators in the district councils!
With such a blueprint so palpably evident the opposition could be expected to take part in entering into a dialogue with the President to choose the next EC if they are politically naïve or have some other motive. It is sad that those who advised the President did not take into account that he is one of our most senior politicians and has earned respect for himself. The exercise of the dialogue is bound to end in futility and dishonour not just the President personally but also bring disrespect to the high office he holds. The ruling party has pushed the President into the fray merely to show the nation that it is serious about choosing an EC by consensus. It is sad that in using the President’s office this way, the ruling party did not care to remember its predicament with President Biswas in 1996 when he had threatened to use his office beyond what the constitution permitted him.
By choosing the EC as the subject of his dialogue, the President has undermined the real issue on which the country could explode in violence, namely the search for acceptable formula for holding the next general election. The issue of the next general election has become everybody’s concern, except of the ruling party, because of the abolition of the caretaker government. The last four elections, three under a non-party and neutral caretaker government and another where neither of the mainstream parties had any role in the government that held the elections, were free and fair. Only the losing party was the one that raised any question of credibility of these elections. All observers, both national and overseas, gave the elections the highest marks on the issue of freeness and fairness. In fact, the  caretaker government was one with which Bangladesh could have made a  claim to introducing into elections of the developing countries a system that ensured a free and fair election.
After the present government came to power, the court recommended abolishing the caretaker government because the constitution had given it a limited time span. The court, however, also recommended that at least two more elections should be held under it taking into view the nature of politics in the country where the history of elections under a political party in power has been one of rigging and fraud.  The ruling party used its parliamentary majority to replace the CG system with an interim government without even waiting for the full verdict of the Court which is still awaited!   
The indecent hurry with which the ruling party ended the CG system for an interim administration so that it could hold the next national elections spilled the beans on its intentions. Its subsequent actions revealed a blue print for returning to power. Thus by the time the President called the dialogue for selecting the next EC, few outside the ruling party and its coalition partners felt that a new EC would be selected with views from the opposition taken into consideration or that the interim government would allow it the sort of independence that could make it an alternative to the neutral caretaker government.
It is a matter of regret that the President himself has chosen to overlook the status of current politics in Bangladesh. His dialogue with the parties in the ruling coalition has been an un-necessary exercise, a waste of both his valuable time and those of the parties that attended the dialogue.  One would not have blamed the BNP if it had stayed away from the dialogue because before the President embarked on such an exercise, his aides should have sounded out the opposition. This does not seem to have been the case. In fact, it looks like those who organized the dialogue knew that the BNP would not attend and the AL would get political mileage for trying to form an EC by consensus.
By deciding to attend, the BNP has made a smart political move and has pre-empted the AL from getting the political mileage it expected.  The BNP would now no doubt its participation in the dialogue to inform the President face to face that no one would be able to save the country from an impending disaster unless the ruling party relents on its decision to hold the next general elections under an interim government to be headed by the outgoing Prime Minister. The BNP would also no doubt push the President for the immediate publication of the full verdict of the court on abolition of the CG system and insist that its recommendation for the next two general elections to be held under the caretaker system should be accepted to save the country from an impending crisis.
The logic to accept the court’s recommendation to hold the next two general elections under the caretaker government is too blatantly strong for the President to miss it if he wants to save the country. The ruling party is in no power or position to impose its will on the people without pushing the country towards a disaster with less than 40% of support among the people and having failed to deliver on its major election   promises.
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